When puppeteer Dilip Bhatt, headman of Kathputli Colony in central-west Delhi, addressed locals and media persons on Monday afternoon, 50-year-old Savitri, who was sitting in the audience, stood up and pointed towards a narrow street.
A couple of police men had just passed by. Nearby is a boundary wall, beyond which stood two bulldozers.
“Over 500 police officers are in Kathputli Colony since last week. I am scared to leave my house. I have even stopped going to work, fearing they will demolish it when I am not present,” said Savitri, a folk singer.
The entire community of street performers has been worried for the last few days due to deployment of police and paramilitary forces in the colony.
Locals fear forceful eviction from Kathputli Colony -- famous for being home to the country’s largest agglomeration of street performers -- before it is bulldozed into extinction by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) as part of its Delhi Master Plan 2021.
The colony, spreading over 5.2 hectares, will be razed to construct multi-storey buildings by a private developer as part of an in-situ rehabilitation plan. The residents will get flats and the developer can keep part of the space for commercial use.
Locals said notices issued since last week asked them to keep their documents ready to determine if they are eligible for relocation. Residents have been told they will be shifted to temporary flats at a transit camp in Anand Parbat until new flats are constructed for them in the colony.
Some families have already shifted, but majority still remain in the colony.
A police official, requesting anonymity, police were deployed in and around Kathputli Colony to maintain law and order.
A senior DDA official said the demolition drive began on December 19. Till now, 110 hutments have been demolished and 2,000 remain.
“Police have been deployed to ensure a peaceful demolition drive. There are some locals who do not want the demolition due to their vested interests. But families are cooperating. Till our last report, 400 people have voluntarily agreed and been issued demolition slips,” said a DDA official.
But locals alleged the police are have been posted to force them to leave the colony as soon as possible.
A few locals said the police are locking their homes when they go for work. Janki, 60, said she had gone to her neighbour’s house for some time on Monday morning and when she returned, she found police officials hanging around her house. They had locked her house, she said.
“I argued with them and asked why they locked my house. When my neighbours intervened, they unlocked the door and went away,” said Janki.
A few hours later, two women in their mid-40s fainted. Locals said they were scared to see the bulldozers and feared their houses would be demolished.
“Water supply has stopped. No one is coming to collect garbage. This is being done deliberately to make our lives hell, so that we will leave the colony,” said Sherun (35), a local living in the colony since 20 years.
There is a fear of never coming back to the colony, which many artists feel is a possibility, as they don’t trust the authorities anymore.
“The colony got its name from the puppeteers of the Rajasthani Bhat community, which migrated here in the 1950s and formed the colony. But if the colony is demolished, puppeteers will lose their identity and livelihood. Also, there is no guarantee of coming back. I don’t trust the authorities,” said Ashok Bhatt, a puppeteer.